PHOENIX --- In the desert outside of Phoenix John Force Racing continued to turn up the heat on the rest of the Funny Car field. In each session today of the Arizona NHRA Nationals, a JFR Ford Mustang picked up at least one qualifying bonus point and at the end of the day John Force was sitting in the No. 4 provisional spot followed by Mike Neff (No. 6) and daughter Courtney Force (No. 9). Robert Hight and the Auto Club Ford Mustang team posted the 15th quickest time but will go into Saturday’s two qualifying sessions along with rookie Alexia DeJoria, Tim Wilkerson, and Cruz Pedregon looking for a qualifying time.
John Force and his Dean Antonelli and Danny DeGenarro tuned Castrol GTX HIGH MILEAGE Ford Mustang are still carrying the momentum from their season opening win at Pomona to the race track. In the second session Force posted the 3rd quickest time a solid, 4.139 second pass at 307.51 mph. He was barely outpaced by fellow Blue Oval racer Bob Tasca III whose 4.134 second pass at 307.72 mph came just seconds after the 15-time champ’s run.
Looking back at the whole team’s effort on Friday Force, an 8-time winner at the Arizona NHRA Nationals, was excited about the prospects of success for the rest of the weekend.
“I was really excited that Courtney went ahead of me. Robert’s car was trying to fly and he got loose out there. The track is a little tricky in some spots. (Crew chief Ron) Douglas pulled (Courtney) back to put her in the top twelve. He slid it right down there and it ran that 4.18,” said Force. (Crew chief Dean Antonelli) was trying to run a little better but I think it just hit the clutch hard. It was trucking but at 300 feet it started to shake. I went to pedal it but then it cleaned up. I instantly stomped on the gas. You can see on the computer it dropped and they could hear it on the starting line but I never got out of it all the way. Luck is a big part of it. I am driving thinking that if it is at half throttle this thing is going to blow up in the lights. I got a 4.13 and then Tasca came right behind me and ran what he ran. I am just excited.”
“I am not worried about Neff and Robert. They are veterans. They know how to get there. They are trying to push the numbers and that is the game plan. They push to run the big numbers to stay at the top and Courtney and I are trying to learn our program. We are all doing OK.”
When asked to rate his youngest daughter’s driving performance coming out of the season opening race and headed into Phoenix Force was diplomatic and realistic.
“After Pomona I told ESPN the race car is the biggest deal. Drivers are a part of it but a good car makes a driver look good. I could say she could look like an “A” out there in Pomona but the car did the running for her. She did everything right and I gave her a “B.” Only she knows what really went on and any problems that she had. I told her to keep your nose clean and don’t expect too much. She is doing a great job.”
Mike Neff opened the first session with the third quickest time and after his second run he was still sitting in the No. 6 provisional spot. His opening run of 4.155 seconds was only bettered by veteran Jim Head’s 4.107 and Tony Pedregon’s 4.142 second runs. In the second run his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang was picking up speed and then at half-track as Neff put it, “It just blew up,” and limped across the finish line with a time of 4.471 seconds.
“We will get her together for tomorrow. It is nothing I am worried about,” said the driver/crew chief.
This time last week Courtney Force was climbing out of the cockpit of her Traxxas Ford Mustang and had made her pro debut in the Funny Car category the day before in the opening round of the NHRA Winternationals at Pomona. Today, the newly added Traxxas team led by Crew Chiefs Ron Douglas and Scott Wible made some changes, apparent in her improvement at the 28th annual NHRA Arizona Nationals.
For her first run of the weekend Force posted a 4.274 ET at 291.89 mph which put her in the No. 11 spot for the round.
“Having a consistent car out here is really important. I have a great team. Getting the car from A to B is definitely something you want to focus on going into any race. You want to build on that and hopefully get it running quicker. That first pass was pretty good,” said Force, a quarter-finalist in Pomona.
The second qualifying session brought a quicker and faster time for Force as she took her Traxxas Ford Mustang straight down the track until the very end of the run. The car swung to the right at the other end and then towards the centerline, but still sent up a 4.180 ET at 297.75 mph.
“The second pass we got the car to run a 4.18. We were looking for it to run a little quicker, maybe a 4.15, but we will take what we can get. It got us in the field and I am happy. It felt like it was a little loose up there and it pulled me to the wall. I drove it back and then it whipped me hard to the centerline and I tried to pull it back over to get it in the groove, I was debating shutting it off but I stayed in it and shut it off when I got to the finish line. We are going to keep working on it tomorrow.”
“There is a lot that can happen on a run especially at the other end when you are going close to 300 mph. You have to be ready for it. You are sitting in your seat and when you take it down there going straight it can whip you over and you have to be prepared for that to drive it right back. You don’t want to hit the wall and you don’t want to cross the center line. I definitely had my hands full but it made for a good ride and I am glad about that 4.18 and hopefully we can make it run a little quicker tomorrow.”
Force will go into Saturday’s qualifying in the provisional No. 11 position.
The NHRA Arizona Nationals is only the second of 23 stops on the NHRA Full Throttle series tour which leaves much time for more improvement before the end of Force’s rookie season.
Coming from the NHRA Winternationals where Robert Hight snagged the no. 1 qualifying spot, the Auto Club Mustang was expected to be at the top of the pack today. Hight went a 4.244 ET at 284.15 mph in the first session leaving him in the provisional No. 10 spot.
“Jimmy (Prock, crew chief) was going after it both runs. Jim Head made a great run and so did Tony (Pedregon) so we knew there was a good opportunity in the first session,” Hight said.
During the second session of Funny Car qualifying, Hight’s Auto Club Ford Mustang fought the track. The car had the fourth best leave time of the session with a .899 60-foot, but smoked the tires well before reaching the finish line. Hight slipped to the 15th position and therefore his run will not carry over into Saturday’s attempts.
“In the second run, you know this track is tricky. We smoked the tires and didn’t get it down to the finish line under power. We are getting good data from the other teams and Jimmy will look at that and we will get after it tomorrow. We weren’t in (the top 12) going into Saturday at Pomona either and got the No. 1 spot. This is not how we want to race, but I have all the confidence in Jimmy and my guys. You can’t count out this Auto Club Ford Mustang,” added Hight.
Nitro qualifying will resume at Firebird Raceway beginning at noon tomorrow.